Weaponizing scripture, that is, quoting scripture and applying it out of context to attack one’s political enemies and to exploit tragedy for political brownie points, has become a ritual here in America. This familiar pattern has again emerged, with fervor, following the shooting at a small-town church on Sunday. This week’s weaponized verse come from the Book of James (2:26). The hoopla appears to have been triggered by statements of condolence, including offerings of prayer, extended to the families and victims of Sunday’s shooting.
The following are some (more polite) examples of the invocation of this verse on Twitter.
Enough with the “thoughts and prayers already.” The Bible teaches us that faith without works is dead. Do something or say nothing. https://t.co/ekYTtpQhDk
— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) November 5, 2017
Lots of "faith without works is dead" comments. I echo that. When you take no action you're assuming God is gonna just work a miracle.
— Brian Eldridge (@BriEldridge) November 5, 2017
Faith without works is dead. pic.twitter.com/CXdiibZE7K
— Daniel Young (@dyoung8005) November 6, 2017
“Faith without works is dead.” As someone who hasn’t stepped foot in a church in years, it’s amazing how I can remember Scripture more accurately than the “God-fearing” GOP. Your prayers are dead in the water.
— PD (@garouxdeslarmes) November 6, 2017
“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” -James 2:26
Whether or not a Christian agrees with the intention of those misapplying scripture is irrelevant. Christians are the keepers of God’s Word and are, thus, charged with the protection of His Word. Like a metal beam which has been bent and is no longer structurally sound, God’s Word does not serve His people when it has been distorted. So, what did exactly James mean (Chapter 2, verse 26)?
What did James mean?
It is important to remember that “death” in the Bible means separation. First, James uses the analogy of the soul’s separation from the body to explain, in the simplest of terms, proof of life. When your soul and your body are united, your body acts as a kind of “proof of life.” When your soul and your body are separated (death), your body shows know such proof, but instead lies inanimate. While your soul remains living, others can’t see your soul.
Next, James connects that analogy to that of a Christian’s faith, as an illustration, if you will. You and I can’t physically see faith, as it is invisible to the naked eye, living in the hearts of those who possess that faith. It is only through our actions, our works (words and deeds) that others are able to see our faith. Thus, our works serve as the proof of life for our faith. Just like the soul which lives on after its separation from the body, our faith too exists regardless of whether or not others can see it. However, as apostles of Christ, we are called to bring others to Christ and to represent Him well through our good works. James, then, was encouraging Christians to live their faith outwardly for others to see.
This does not mean that your works (or lack of) determine your salvation. Remember, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Dr. C. I. Scofield, in the Scofield Bible, made the following observation: “(These are two aspects of one truth). Paul speaks of that which justifies man before God, via: faith alone, wholly apart from works: James of the proof before men, that he who possesses to have justifying faith really has it. Paul speaks of what God sees-faith; James of what men see-works, as the visible evidence of faith. Paul draws his illustration from Genesis 15:6, James from Genesis 22:1-19. James’s key-phrase is ‘ye see’ (James 2:24), for men cannot see faith except as manifested through works.”
Scriptural interpretation is not political
Knowing the correct meaning and context of scripture is only half of our work, however. We also must seek to understand the context within which scripture is being used, as well as the intended meaning by those employing the scripture. What those utilizing the “faith without works is dead” portion of James 2:26 use the word “works” to mean, specifically, what they themselves want someone else to do. These individuals are unambiguously defining “works” to imply, “faith without gun control is dead.” Again, whether or not you agree with the intentions of others does not negate the inappropriateness of twisting God’s word for political expediency.
Many of our societal ills may be approached by different points of view, with each side still seeking the same goal. God’s Word is precious and can only serve as a guiding light when the integrity of the His Word is upheld. We can agree and disagree without promoting the malformation of Truth. Tragedies and scripture are not tools to be dishonestly exploited for our own political goals. Wisdom is manifested through honesty.